Friday, July 02, 2004


I have always admired the Gallic apology "je suis desolee." It so surpasses "excuse me," "I'm sorry" or even "pardonnez-moi" in emotional contrition, that it contains within its almost histrionic exaggeration a soupcon of ironic insincerity.

But today I am desolate in the true sense of the word. Beyond consolation.

Our splendid little kitty, Rosa, died yesterday.

The call came shortly after I arrived home from work. It was a neighbor, a stranger, reporting she'd found Rosa dead in the street that morning, run over, and had retrieved her, initially thinking it was her own orange cat.

I grabbed a towel and drove to her house. Two women, mother and daughter, were waiting in the driveway.

The older woman explained that her son had triple bagged poor little Rosa and placed her in the trash. "She was starting to smell," she said, apologetic, emotional herself.

"I understand," I reassured her and went through layers of trash bag and trash until I saw blood-spattered orange fur. A teenage girl stood on the steps, looking grief-sricken and close to tears herself.

Rosa had been dead long enough for rigor mortis to have come and gone. Her body was strangely warm from the sun and pliant. I lifted her from the trash and placed her on a dark blue towel. Her head seemed flattened. There was some blood on her paws. There was sand in her fur. She was heavier than I could ever imagine our sprightly, mercurial little cat. Almost impossibly heavy. In that moment I understood "dead weight." No breath, no purr, no restless, joyful movement, no sprightly cat attention directed toward every earthly wonder in her world. Just flesh, lugubriously still. A thing.

I carried her swaddled body to the car. As I drove home, the smell of decay filled the air.

Home, I carried her from room to room, full of sadness, every old loss, human and feline, stirring in the vault of my brain, ghosts assembling to form a choir of grief.

Where was Rosa ?

I listened for her in the wind in the trees, I looked for her in the astonishing, Rose-colored full moon. Nowhere. There was no thought I could think, none at all, that gave consolation. No God thought. No Zen thought. No thought that "grief is just a thought." None.

DK and I wept and wept. "The house is empty," he said. I slept fitfully. He didn't sleep at all. We talked about her: her sweet, gregarious, affectionate nature. How she licked the other kitties' heads, how she nuzzled us. How she swaggered about. How she squeak-purred, and conversed with us.

She loved to go outside. She loved the summer. She was a street kitty from birth, the shelter told us. We'd noted she did not shy from the road like our other two, more circumspect outside cats. We should have heeded that. I wish we'd heeded that.

Waking from an odd dream, walking in the dark to the bathroom, I felt my own weight. I was topheavy, about to fall over. I felt like the earth was trying to pull me down, and under. "This," I thought, "is what age and impending death must feel like."

Waking again to thunder and lightning at 4, I again interrogated the dangerous world: where is Rosa ? I thought of all the creatures, animal and human, currently in harm's way. The mothers and fathers across the planet who carried armsful of swaddled dead children. The impossible weight of death and loss and incarnation.

I thought of my own imperfect husbandry of my poor little Rosa. "Je suis desolee," little kitty. I am so, so sorry. I should never have let you out beyond the sphere of my care into the treacherous, car-ridden world.

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